The 1st Laotian Parachute Battalion badge 1952 – 1954

Lao para Drago OM 1952-19

Original 1952 issue 1er Battaillon de Parachutistes Laotiens (1BPL) badge. The parachute and wings represent the airborne status of the unit. The four tiered parasol surrounded by three elephants symbolises Laotian royalty and reflects the legend that Khoun Borom founded the Kingdom after arriving on a white elephant and protected from the sun by a 4 tiered white parasol. The three elephants also symbolise the three principalities of Laos until 1947. The red enamel work reflects the national colour. The motto can be translated as “Dare to Conquer” or “As Courage Triumphs”. 2000 of these badges were ordered from the Drago company in 1952 and features the “Drago Paris Nice 43. R.  Olivier Metra” hallmark. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

The first Lao parachute unit, 1ere Compagnie de Commandos Parachutistes Laotiens (1ere CCPL)  was raised by the French in July 1948 from soldiers of the 3rd Company of the 1st Laotian Chasseur Battalion (1ere BCL). On 11 May 1949 it conducted its first operational parachute jump when 18 commandos were deployed to reinforce the garrison of Luang Nam Tha. By the end of the year it had carried out six more airborne operations and by April 1951 the unit had expanded from three to six commando sections. Then, in October 1951, Commandos 4, 5 and 6 were removed to form the basis of the 2nd company for a new unit, the 1st Laotian Parachute Battalion (1er Battaillon de Parachutistes Laotiens 1 BPL)

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Forerunners to 1st Laotian Parachute Battalion, Laotian paratroopers of 1st Laotian Parachute Commando Company (1ere CCPL) boarding an aircraft for a training jump in 1950.

On 1 April 1952, 1BPL was formally established with a strength of 853 men, including 13 French officers and 46 NCO’s, divided into a headquarters and three companies. By the end of the year the battalion had participated in 20 operations of which 6 included parachute insertions. In December 1952, during Operation Noel, 576 men from the unit parachuted into Sam Neua (Xam Neua) in north-eastern Laos to reinforce the garrison there. Then, in February 1953, a fourth company of 80 more paratroopers jumped in to bolster the garrison strength. However, in April 1953, the Viet Minh launched an invasion of north-eastern Laos crushing the garrison and forcing the remnants of the battalion to flee toward the Plain of Jars.

In May the unit was reformed at its base in Chinaïmo army camp on the eastern outskirts of Vientiane, undertaking commando and reconnaissance tasks north of Luang Prabang. In March 1954, 1er BPL began preparations for the relief of Dien Bien Phu as part of Operation Condor and by early May the battalion had relocated close to the Lao-Vietnamese border but withdrew after the French garrison surrendered.  On 18 June 1954 the unit regrouped at the French Air Force base at Seno near Savannakhet, then conducted the last airborne operation of the war when it parachuted into the town of Phanop in Khammouane Province to link up with militia units to clear the territory up to the Mu Gia Pass on the Vietnamese border.

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An unknown French officer serving with 1BPL. Note the enameled unit badge on his right breast pocket and the standard French parachutist beret badge. During the period of 1BPL, the standard French wings were also worn. The distinctive Lao style beret badge which replaced the sword with a trident and also the Lao parachute wings, were created after the French departure and 1 BPL had been re-designated 1st Parachute Battalion of the  Armée Nationale Laotiènne. Collection: Julian Tennant.

On 6 August 1954, following the implementation of the ceasefire in Indochina, 1BPL returned to Seno where it was integrated into the Laotian National Army (ANL). In October, following the departure of its French cadre it was redesignated the 1st Parachute Battalion  (1er Bataillon Parachutiste – 1BP).

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Laotian paratrooper of 1BPL circa 1954. Note the standard French parachutist beret badge worn by 1BPL.

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Comparison of my original 1952 French DRAGO OM hallmarked 1st Laotian Parachute Battalion badge (top) and a well made fake (bottom) that I first encountered during a trip to Vietnam in mid to late 2000. The fakes tend to feel slightly heavier than what you would expect for these badges and I suspect that is because of the alloys used. A very noticeable and critical point of difference is that the irregular hatching on the back does not match that of the originals. Nor does the text detail, which is a bit larger and less well defined as it is on the original. The detail and finish of the front of the badge is also lacking the fine precision of the original and this is particularly obvious on the elephants, text and parachute lines. Experience counts when looking at these badges. During that first encounter with the fakes in Vietnam it was only because several dealers at the notorious Dan Sinh market had examples of this and other rare French period badges that the red flags went up. At first glance the badges could be mistaken for original, but when compared to an original the differences are obvious. Caveat Emptor!

 

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Airborne Assault Museum – IWM Duxford, United Kingdom

The Airborne Assault Museum traces the history of British Airborne Forces since their beginning in 1940 to the present day. The museum was originally established by the Committee of the Parachute Regiment Association in October 1946 and relocated from its former home in Browning Barracks, Aldershot to Hangar no.1 (Building 213) of the Imperial War Museum at Duxford in 2008.

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Service Dress Jacket based on a WW1 Royal Flying Corps “maternity” tunic, worn by Lt-Gen Frederick Browning GCVO KBE CB DSO, the father of the British Airborne Forces. This uniform, designed by Browning was made of barathea with a false Uhlan-style front, incorporating a zip opening at the neck to reveal regulation shirt and tie. It was worn with medal ribbons, collar patches and rank badges, capped off with grey kid gloves, a Guards Sam Browne belt and swagger stick. Above the medal ribbons you can also see the Army Air Corps wings which he also had a hand in designing and qualified as a pilot himself in 1942.

Whilst relatively small and tucked away in the back corner of the hangar, the museum is extremely well done. The outside the entrance some of the heavy equipment used by the Airborne Forces is on display, but the really interesting stuff, for a collector like me, was inside. Lots of uniforms, weapons, personal kit and artifacts related to the Parachute Regiment and other Airborne soldiers from the time of their formation in 1940 through the various campaigns of WW2 to post war operations in the Suez crisis,  Borneo, Aden, Northern Ireland, The Falklands, Kosovo, the Middle East and Afghanistan.

To visit Airborne Assault you have to buy an entry ticket to the Imperial War Museum Duxford, which will also give you entry to the other exhibition spaces, including the Land Warfare Display and the Royal Anglian Regiment Museum both of which are also worth a visit along with the other air warfare related displays. I’ll do a review and show some pictures of those exhibits in a future post.

Airborne Assault IWM Duxford Photo: Julian Tennant

‘Bing’ the ParaDog. ParaDogs were trained to parachute with the troops and subsequently undertake guard, mine-detecting and patrol duties. ‘Bing’, war dog 2720/6871, was assigned to the recce platoon of 13 Para. His first operational jump was in Normandy on 6 June 1944 and served in France until September 1944 and on 24 March 1945 he parachuted over the Rhine. ‘Bing’ remained in Germany until the war’s end, before being returned to his original owner. On 29 March 1947, ‘Bing’ was awarded the Dickin Medal which is given to animals for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while serving in conflict.

 

Airborne Assault
Building 213
Imperial War Museum Duxford
Cambridge
CB22 4QR                                                                                                                                                   United Kingdom

Email: askthearchive@paradata.org.uk                                                                                            https://www.paradata.org.uk/article/airborne-assault-museum-iwm-duxford

Open every day from 10am, including Bank Holidays                                                              Opening times for the Winter (October to March) are:
10am – 5pm                                                                                                                                               Opening times for the Summer (March to October) are:
10am – 6pm                                                                                                                                               Closed 24, 25 and 26 December.

 

Airborne Assault Duxford map

Airborne Assault - The Museum of the Parachute Regiment & Airborne Forces.

Airborne Assault – The Museum of the Parachute Regiment & Airborne Forces. © Julian Tennant